The most powerful transcendent artifact in his possession right now was the Mystic Yin Mirror, and that was all he could use. However, even though the Mystic Yin Mirror was effective for killing, it wasn't particularly useful in terms of destruction. It couldn't do anything against this gourd artifact. In addition, Miao Yi didn't have any other long-ranged weapons in his storage ring...
Suddenly, Miao Yi's eyes shone as he remembered that he still had a weapon he could use for long-range attacks—the tiny mantids. He could control those little fellows remotely to attack his enemies. However, although they could ingest crystal coins, Miao Yi wasn't sure if they could chew through a transcendent artifact that was refined using Crystalline Obsidian.
That said, he had no other options. Regardless of the method, he had to try. However, he worried whether or not the tiny mantids could survive the demonic aura in this place.
He slowly spread his palms. Awoken from its slumber, a tiny mantid flew out of his storage ring. It perched atop Miao Yi's palm and spread its wings, standing there silently like a butterfly.
Miao Yi stared intently as the fog-like demonic aura enveloped the tiny mantid's body. After a brief observation, he didn't find anything wrong with it. While he was relieved, he was also quite astonished to see that the little fellow was not the least bit afraid of the vile demonic aura.
Then he thought back to what Lao Bai had told him, "The Hell Mantis is a demonic beast of the underworld to begin with!"
In other words, the tiny mantids were also a breed of demon. Since Pi Junzi and Tao Ruchun were not afraid of the demonic aura, naturally, it should be fine as well.
Miao Yi looked up at the occasionally neighing dragon steed hanging above him. With a thought, he invoked his arts and dissolved its armor. The armor immediately reverted into black mist and was sucked back into his storage ring. Miao Yi then proceeded to carefully examine the dragon steed.
Logically speaking, this dragon steed should be even worse off than Qi Xiuhong since it didn't have any cultivation to speak of. However, from the looks of it, it was completely fine. As expected, there was no need to fear this demonic aura at all if you are a demon.
Once his doubts were cleared, Miao Yi scanned his surroundings again. The ends of all the intertwining iron chains were embedded into the walls of the gourd. Based on the experience from his capture, Miao Yi was positive that each of these iron chains was equivalent to a single Second Grade Transcendent Artifact. He couldn't imagine how many Second Grade Yao Cores must have gone into refining so many of them.
To refine such a transcendent artifact, even the amount of Crystalline Obsidian that needed to be spent would be an astronomical figure, much less the number of Second Grade Yao Cores. It was not something Miao Yi could afford with his fortune. It would still be a tall order even if Yao Ruoxian were to sell off everything he owned. Although such a transcendent artifact was still within the limits of a Second Grade Transcendent Artifact, it was even more costly than the average Third Grade Transcendent Artifact. Even normal individuals at the Hall Master-rank would have a hard time putting something like this together. Only those high-ranking officials or major sects, after pooling all the resources of their sect together, would be able to bring about such a contraption.
The tiny mantid climbed up to the iron chain around Miao Yi's wrist, then spread its jaws and began gnawing. Its mandibles shone with a dark gleam and a piercing screech rang out as it chewed on the iron chain.
Down below, Pi Junzi and Tao Ruchun lifted their heads to look, but they couldn't figure out what Miao Yi was doing. Due to the angle, Sikong Wuwei also couldn't see clearly what was happening. They only knew that the screeching noise was coming from Miao Yi.
Only Qi Xiuhong who was above Miao Yi, and Zhao Fei directly behind him, could really make out what he was doing. Unfortunately, Qi Xiuhong's eyes were tightly shut. On the other hand, Zhao Fei was wide-eyed in astonishment as he watched the chewing motion of the tiny mantid on Miao Yi's wrist.
Slowly, a trace of excitement could be seen in Zhao Fei's eyes as he noticed the tiny mantid had actually chewed out a small hole on the iron chain.
'Heavens! What manner of creature is this tiny mantid? Not only is it not afraid of this demonic aura, it is even capable of chewing through a transcendent artifact refined from Crystalline Obsidian. And Miao Yi has more than just one of them. If he were to let them all out…'
There was no need for him to remind Miao Yi. He had already released all thirty-five tiny mantids and the little fellows were soon on his wrists, gnawing at the iron chains. The incessant screeching noise they made was enough to send chills down one's spine.
Everyone was taken aback when they finally understood what Miao Yi was trying to do.
Zhao Fei immediately understood everything. Just then, Miao Yi wasn't confident in his plan, which was why he had only released one to test things out.
Zhao Fei quickly scanned about, then told Miao Yi, "Each of these iron chains is equal to a Second Grade Transcendent Artifact. Just like with an octopus' tentacles, there's a chance you won't be able to destroy the base structure of the artifact just by chopping off one of them. At the rate your tiny mantids are going, how long will it take for them to free you completely? The gourd's walls! Focus your tiny mantids on a single point on the wall. As long as they can chew through, this transcendent artifact will surely be destroyed. Hurry! Qi Xiuhong won't hold for long!"
Zhao Fei's reminder came in the nick of time. Miao Yi nodded in agreement, then quickly commanded the thirty-five tiny mantids to fly towards the wall and focus their chewing on a single point.
At this point, no one would complain about the noise they were making. Instead, it was like music to their ears. Everyone was excited to glimpse a chance for survival.
"Hehe. It seems like there's hope for our escape yet!" Sikong Wuwei laughed maniacally.
On the other hand, Miao Yi couldn't find it in himself to smile. He pursed his lips as he looked up, and saw Qi Xiuhong's pale face already starting to turn blue.
"Xiuhong. Hold on just a little bit longer. We'll be able to get out soon." Miao Yi said, as he ground his teeth and tried to cheer Qi Xiuhong on.
When they heard him, everyone else turned to look at her; then shifted their gazes to the tiny mantids. Although the tiny mantids were capable of chewing through the walls of this transcendent artifact, the speed at which they were going was unbearably slow. After all, it wasn't as though the artifact was made of tofu. Realistically speaking, there was no way Qi Xiuhong could make it until the escape. Everyone immediately fell silent.
Miao Yi shot the tiny mantids a glare, a trace of rage in his eyes. The little fellows immediately quickened the pace.
Outside, Bai Ziliang and his group were still in pursuit of Gu Sanzheng and the others. However, it was difficult to catch up to them without the help of the Tempest Beast.
On the other hand, Gu Sanzheng and the others found it odd that all those water tribes that had been tailing them closely all this while seemed to have suddenly disappeared.
Inside the gourd, time passed slowly. No one said a word as Qi Xiuhong's complexion gradually worsened; her neck and palms had already turned blue.
Miao Yi shut his eyes tightly and hung his head low. He could only clench fists tightly as both his wrists and his body were heavily bound. Outsiders could not possibly fathom the pain he was feeling within himself.
However, the others could roughly sense the struggle he was going through. No one made a peep to disturb him. Only the screeching from the tiny mantids could be heard within the gourd.
Truth be told, because of their own predicament, everyone was more concerned for Miao Yi than Qi Xiuhong. They worried that he wouldn't be able to hold out, and would end up following after Qi Xiuhong. After all, his White Lotus Seventh Grade cultivation was not much higher than her White Lotus Fifth Grade cultivation.
Judging from the pace at which the tiny mantids were going, it was hard for them not to worry. Miao Yi was the only one capable of controlling those little fellows. If he died, then it would truly spell the end for everyone.
Deep down, everyone was earnestly praying for the Great Lord Miao to hold on!
Miao Yi didn't know how much time had already passed. All he could feel was how unbearably slow it was.
Above him, Qi Xiuhong weakly called out all of a sudden, "Miao Yi…"
Everyone turned to look at her. Miao Yi also abruptly lifted his head.
Her face ghastly pale, Qi Xiuhong finally opened her eyes. Although her gaze was weak, she still managed to put on a smile for Miao Yi. In that instant, Miao Yi felt like his heart was on the verge of crumbling. He struggled against the iron chains, but it was all in vain. His efforts did little besides make them rattle slightly.
Helpless, Miao Yi took a deep breath and put on a smile. "Xiuhong. It won't be long. Just hold on a little longer. We'll be able to escape soon!"
Qi Xiuhong weakly replied, "I can't hold on anymore!"
Miao Yi struggled against the chains again. Then he calmed his breathing and continued to cheer Qi Xiuhong on, "You can! Just hold on. Don't give up! You have to trust me. You have to believe that I will definitely bring you out of this Sea of Constellations alive! I can do it! Trust me!"
Qi Xiuhong weakly replied, "When I came here, I already knew. With my cultivation, it was impossible for me to make it back alive. I am already very satisfied to have lived this long."
Miao Yi yelled, "Don't give up! Look at me. Just look at me! My cultivation isn't much higher than yours, but even so, I still have faith that I will make it back alive. You can't give up too! Try not to speak. Focus your efforts on guarding against the demonic aura!"
Qi Xiuhong replied, "I'm different. You are a capable person. You have a strong will and you never fear danger. I'm much too different from you. I was simply lucky… lucky enough to meet you. It's why I have been able to live to this day."
Miao Yi yelled, "It's not like that. Right now, it's just a matter of who can hold on with their cultivation. Your cultivation is almost the same as mine. Since I can hold on, you surely can too!"
Sikong Wuwei suddenly chimed in, "Girl. It wasn't easy for us to be able to walk this path together as long as we did. You can't just give up in this crucial moment! You have to hold on! Brother Miao has already found a way to escape. It won't be long now. Take a look. Brother Miao is going to destroy this transcendent artifact soon. Just hold on a little while longer!"
Zhao Fei also spoke up, "Qi Xiuhong. You have to hold on. Don't let Brother Miao down! Rest assured. If we can survive this ordeal, none of us will ever give up on you. We will make sure you make it out of the Sea of Constellations alive. Once we return, we will help you take revenge. Whoever sent you to suffer in this Sea of Constellations, they will be hearing from us! I, Zhao Fei, give you my word as a man! You have to hold on!"
"That's right! That's right!" Sikong Wuwei repeatedly nodded, "You still have unfinished business. Don't say you'll give up so easily. You can't allow those who wronged you to go unpunished! Count me in if you want to take revenge. No matter how high of an authority that guy holds, let us all go skin him alive!"
"Lady Qi. You have to hold on!" Although they were simply pretending to care, Pi Junzi and Tao Ruchun also joined in and cheered her on.
There was no choice. Since everyone else was already encouraging her, it would look bad on them if they kept quiet. If their lack of sympathy were to somehow anger Miao Yi, he wouldn't even need to use the Mystic Yin Mirror, he could simply have those tiny mantids come over and tear them apart. Their hides were not so hard that they could compare against the robustness of transcendent artifacts. Since those tiny mantids could even chew through a Crystalline Obsidian transcendent artifact, it would be a cakewalk for them to devour the two of them to death.
Qi Xiuhong simply smiled weakly, as though she didn't even have the strength to thank everyone anymore. She looked at Miao Yi and asked, "Miao Yi. Have you ever thought less of me?"
"Never!" Miao Yi repeatedly shook his head, "Why would I think less of you?!"
Qi Xiuhong replied, "I was afraid you would think less of me. I was afraid you thought that I was only sleeping with you to survive in the Sea of Constellations. That was never my intention. I am truly in love with you. You have treated me very kindly, and your kindness touched me deeply. That was why I willingly chose to sleep with you. I wish to be together with you forever. However, the first time was simply too abrupt. I was really afraid you would think less of me!"
In that instant, Miao Yi understood everything. He finally realized why she would always intentionally keep her distance from him after sex. It was because she was afraid he would think less of her and treat her as some kind of easy woman.
Miao Yi felt like his heart was being pierced by knives. He shook his head vigorously in response.
"Miao Yi. Have you ever truly loved me?" Qi Xiuhong's voice suddenly grew slightly stronger. Within her gentle gaze, there was a visible trace of expectation towards his answer.
However, Miao Yi was instantly struck dumb when he heard the question. 'Had he ever truly loved her?'
He couldn't lie to himself—he did not!
The kind of carnal lust he had was different from the feeling Qi Xiuhong had in mind. This, he understood. He never felt that way about her. All he felt was a sense of obligation for her. He was not some irresponsible man.
There was no need to explain further. Miao Yi's reaction had said it all.
At that moment, Qi Xiuhong seemed to understand everything. A trace of anguish could be seen in her eyes as they gradually moistened. Slowly, she closed her eyes, and as her tears gently rolled down her cheeks, her head suddenly fell. Her breathing completely stopped.
Two teardrops fell upon Miao Yi's face, snapping him back from his thoughts. He twisted to look at Qi Xiuhong, his eyes filled with horror...